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Student lunch cost expected to rise

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The cost of student lunches in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. is expected to rise by 10 cents next school year, continuing a trend of a dime-per-year increase that will continue indefinitely unless something changes at the federal level.

Nancy Millspaugh, the district’s director of food service, will propose during a school board meeting Monday to raise prices to $2.35 for kindergarten through sixth grade and to $2.45 for Grades 7-12.

Board approval is a formality. The federal government passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act three years ago to ensure sufficient funds are provided to serve healthy meals to students, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Millspaugh said the act forces an increase of no more than 10 cents every year until the school system meets the federally mandated amount of $2.59. The ongoing problem is that the federally mandated amount goes up often, rising by 13 cents in the most recent year alone.

That means future annual increases for school systems are assured, unless the National School Nutrition Association lobbies successfully to make the hikes mandatory only for school corporations that lose money. The Bartholomew Consolidated school district does not lose money and would not qualify, Millspaugh said.

In the meantime, Millspaugh said she is afraid the 10-cent hike next school year will prove a burden for low-income families. She said last year’s increase coincided with a 10 percent drop in the number of elementary students who eat school lunches, which stood at 69 percent as of December.

“I’d like to say it’s just a dime, but when families are struggling, every dime counts,” she said. “We’ve seen the effect.”

Amber Miller, who has four children in the public school system, said next school year’s lunch increase will cost her and her husband an extra $8 a month. She said that makes a difference in her family’s bottom line that could get burdensome.

Tiffany Davis, whose two children attend Richards Elementary School, said the upcoming price hike alone is not the issue. She said the problem is that there is no end in sight for the price increases and that the price of everything else seems to be rising as well.

“I’ve been talking to the kids about how to save money,” she said. “They don’t usually take their own lunch to school, but they might start.”

Superintendent John Quick said the price increase would not be happening if it weren’t for the federal mandate. On its own, the school system prefers to raise prices an average of every four years to cover inflationary expenses.

The school system is expecting a nearly $33,000 increase in revenue because of next school year’s 10-cent increase. Millspaugh said all of it will remain with the district’s food services division, which will use the money to help replace and fix old equipment, for example.

The mandated increase does not apply to student breakfasts, which will remain $1.25 for breakfast for all grade levels, Millspaugh said.

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